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The thesis of this book is fairly simple: because today's Democrats appeal to upper class professionals, working women, blacks, Asian-Americans and Hispanics--and because all of these groups are growing in demographic terms--they are destined to be the majority party. In successive chapters the authors run the numbers and show that recent voting patterns do indeed seem to support their case. But then they hit a rocky patch, when they try to describe the political vision that will bind this incoherent amalgam into a cohesive party, a politics they refer to as the "progressive center".

The first indicator of trouble is to be found in that name itself, which is very nearly an oxymoron. If the center is, by definition, where power resides in a society and if by progressive we mean seeking "economic justice" for those groups that don't enjoy power, then progressive centrism requires the powerful to subvert themselves. One need only read George Dangerfield's Strange Death of Liberal England or H.W. Brand's Strange Death of American Liberalism to get an idea of just how inherently unstable any kind of broad-based progressivism tends to be. Sooner or later a philosophy that says you should give "disadvantaged" groups whatever they seek comes a cropper as they ask for more and more.

The second sign of trouble comes when the authors demonstrate that they don't really understand this dynamic at all:
Political majorities are always coalitions. They combine different, and sometimes feuding, constituencies, interest groups, religions, races, and classes often united by nothing other than great dislike for the governing party, candidate, and coalition. What, after all, united the white Southern Bourbon and the Northern black who voted for Roosevelt in 1940, or the upscale suburbanite from Bergen County and the white working-class evangelical from Greenville who voted for Reagan in 1984?
To begin with, of course, it was self-interest that united these disparate groups. In 1940, FDR promised economic benefits to Northern blacks and promised Southern whites that he'd not interfere with Jim Crow. Their loyalties were, quite simply, purchased. But, eventually, as the authors' question suggests, the deal foundered on its own illogic, as blacks--Northern and Southern--demanded, as the price of their continued support, that the deal with white Southerners be broken. It turned out, unsurprisingly, that at some point you had to rob Peter to pay Paul, and Peter didn't much like it. So the Democrats lost the solid South and since that time no non-Southern Democrat has served as President.

Meanwhile, the Reagan coalition, though just as self-interested, was also unified by ideas: smaller government; lower taxes; victory in the Cold War; a slowing, or reversal, of the radical social changes of the '60s and '70s; etc. The coalition has therefore remained rather durable, faltering only when George Bush violated its core principle by raising taxes, permitting a charismatic Southern governor, who ran as a conservative, to win a bare plurality and congressional Democrats to stage a very brief resurgence. But as soon as President Clinton showed himself to be dedicated to expanding government it reunited the conservative coalition and ushered in an era of Republican dominance of Congress for the first time since the Great Depression.

What all of this suggests is that in order to maintain the kind of Democratic Majority that the authors envision emerging, it will be necessary for Democrats to find a way to keep paying off these constituency groups, even though their interests will often diverge. And here we arrive at the third problem, their failure to recognize how divergent those interests may be:
Today's Americans, whose attitudes have been nurtured by the transition to postindustrial capitalism, increasingly endorse the politics of this progressive centrism. They want government to play an active and responsible role in American life, guaranteeing a reasonable level of economic security to Americans rather than leaving them at the mercy of the market and the business cycle. They want to preserve and strengthen social security and medicare, rather than privatize them. They want to modernize and upgrade public education, not abandon it. They want to exploit new biotechnologies and computer technologies to improve the quality of life. They do not want science held hostage to a religious or ideological agenda. And they want the social gains of the sixties consolidated, not rolled back; the wounds of race healed, not inflamed. That's why the Democrats are likely to become the majority party of the early twenty-first century.
Unfortunately, each point of this program is denigrated by the authors themselves, shown by widely-available polling data to be unpopular, or else finds members of their proposed coalition on opposite sides of the political fence.

So, for example, an issue like immigration--which Hispanics, Asians and the professionals may all be expected to support--will have a disproportionately negative impact on blacks and working women, because immigrants will be willing to do the jobs those cohorts often do at the current time, but for less money. Or consider an issue like affirmative action, especially in education, which will benefit blacks at the expense of women, Asians, and Jews, because those three groups are overrepresented (as a proportion of population) in colleges. An even starker divide occurs on an issue like slave reparations, which would in effect require Hispanics and Asians who were themselves victims of racism, though not of slavery, to countenance the transfer of their tax dollars to blacks. Similarly, support for public education is indeed high among Americans, especially white Americans, whose kids are in pretty good schools, but vouchers are popular among blacks, many of whose children are trapped in failing public schools. This portends a showdown between black parents who want better for their children and those white professionals and Asians who have little interest in seeing inner-city kids attending their own children's schools. This also introduces one of the hidden elements that will tend to work against unity amongst these groups: race. The authors tend to lump everyone into one of two groups, white men or minorities. But there's no love lost between Hispanics and blacks or Asians and blacks, never mind between those whites who snuck into the majority and the various ethnic groups with whom their supposed to comfortably share the Democratic party. Lastly, blacks and Hispanics tend to be far more conservative on social issues than do the professionals and working women, so that issues like abortion, cloning (biotechnology), homosexuality, drugs, vouchers, prayer in schools, etc., will work to divide rather than unify the coalition.

By now some of the dangers to this "majority" should be obvious, but if not let's draw them out. In order to keep the professionals you need to limit government, keep taxes reasonably low, and be permissive on moral issues. In order to keep the working women you need to expand government, raise taxes (on other people, of course), be permissive on moral issues, limit immigration and, regardless of what you say about race, not try to integrate their own neighborhoods and schools. In order to keep the Asians you need to... Well, actually, I don't know. The Asian vote, which used to be somewhat Republican, seems to have become something like the Jewish vote, of which Irving Kristol once said: "Jews make money like Episcopalians and vote like Puerto Ricans". To keep Hispanics you first of all need to reverse the rapid inroads that President Bush and the Republicans seem to be making on what would appear to be a temperamentally conservative constituency. But, even assuming you do that, you then need to liberalize immigration, move to the right on social issues, and begin to concede pride of place in the party to a minority group that either already does or soon will outnumber blacks. Luckily, based on past experience, you don't need to do anything to keep blacks, who vote in lock step for Democrats without receiving any more than lip service for the most part. But that lip service at this point seems likely to include support for affirmative action and slavery reparations. So, tell me, how do you knit that whole crazy quilt together?

If that doesn't seem a daunting enough task, let's recall that neither party generally has an actual majority. Instead they try to put together the broadest coalition possible and then appeal to independents and waverers from the other party. So it remains true that to win elections you usually need to be on the majority side of big issues. But, whether because of ideology or a genuine difference of interpretation, the authors seem to have positioned their future Democratic Party on the wrong side of several issues from the broad electorate. Thus, they baldly assert that Americans want to keep Social Security in roughly its current form, even though polls suggest that voters favor individual accounts and one would expect these numbers to favor privatization even more as the Greatest Generation continues to die off and the 401k generation reaches maturity. Most Americans--and in particular, most rank-and-file Democrats--favor giving tax dollars to religious organizations to provide social services. Large majorities favor limitations on things like partial birth abortion and even therapeutic cloning. Most Americans are at least concerned about, if not outright opposed to, large scale immigration. The list goes on and on, and, importantly, we've not even addressed, nor do the authors much try to, the issues surrounding the war on terror. This is an area where even the treasured working women of the authors' thesis have turned into conservative hawks and where the Democrats have almost no credibility.

So, at the end of the day what do we have? Giving the authors the benefit of the doubt, let's say that in sheer numbers the various groups they discuss could form the basis for a new governing majority. However, the broad political philosophy they hope to see arise out of this coalition, "progressive centrism", has historically proven to be rather transitory. In addition, there seems little agreement on the specific issues that matter to each element of this coalition, suggesting that they'll be prone to much infighting. Then too, even assuming that you can get them to put aside their differences, opinion polling would seem to indicate that majorities, often large majorities, of voters oppose them on a wide range of hot button issues. Oh, and, the whole analysis is out the window for so long as there are Islamic fundamentalists waging jihad against America. Got it?

All in all, it doesn't seem as if you should lose much sleep waiting for that new Democratic majority to emerge any time soon.


(Reviewed:)

Grade: (D)

  

Websites:

See also:

Politics
John Judis Links:

    -SENIOR EDITOR: John B. Judis (New Republic)
    -EXCERPT Chapter One: The Geography of the New Majority
    -EXCERPT: from The Paradox of American Democracy by John B. Judis
    -ESSAY: THE COMING DEMOCRATIC DOMINANCE: Majority Rules (John B. Judis & Ruy Teixeira, 07.30.02, New Republic)
    -ideopolis (Word Spy)
    -ARCHIVES: Articles by John B. Judis from The American Prospect
    -BOOK LIST: 20 Required Readings: John B. Judis (Mother Jones)
    -ESSAY: Democrats will be back: Bush won this week because of one issue - security. When that fades, he will be vulnerable (John Judis, November 8, 2002, The Guardian)
    -ESSAY: Why the Republicans should be very afraid: Iraq and the "war on terror" may prevent the Democrats from seizing control of Congress, but long-term trends are all working against the GOP. (John B. Judis and Ruy Teixeira, Oct. 31, 2002, Salon)
    -ESSAY: NO FAULT: WHY THERE'S NOTHING THE DEMOCRATS COULD HAVE DONE (John B. Judis, 11.07.02, New Republic)
    -ESSAY: POLL VAULT: HOW THE DEMOCRATS COULD WIN (John B. Judis, 10.18.02, New Republic)
    -ESSAY: Why Democrats Must Be Populists: And what populist-phobes don't understand about America (John B. Judis and Ruy Teixeira, 9.9.02, American Prospect)
    -ESSAY: Is the Third Way Finished? (John B. Judis, 7.1.02, American Prospect)
    -ESSAY: Coming Attractions (John B. Judis, 12.3.01, American Prospect)
    -ESSAY: Sneak Preview (John B. Judis, 7.2.01, American Prospect)
    -ESSAY: Are We All Progressives Now? (John B. Judis, American Prospect)
    -ESSAY: Al Gore and the Temple of Doom (John B. Judis, American Prospect)
    -ESSAY: The Spirit of '76: WHY W. WON'T STOP AN EMERGING DEMOCRATIC MAJORITY (John B. Judis, 10.26.00, New Republic)
    -ESSAY: Sid Unvicious (John B. Judis, 10/18/00, New Republic)
    -ESSAY: What's the Deal?: The Clinton administration seems to be forgetting its promises to ordinary Americans. If he wants to follow in the tradition of FDR, Clinton will have to confront a deeply divided electorate, Wall Street Democrats, and his own wishful thinking. (John B. Judis, March/April 1994, Mother Jones)
    -ESSAY: Unholy Trinity: Can the guys who screwed us in the'80s save us in the'90s? (John B. Judis, March/April 1993, Mother Jones)
    -ESSAY: American Marxism: Theory without Tradition (John B. Judis, June 1987, World & I)
    -REVIEW: of WEALTH AND DEMOCRACY: A Political History of the American Rich By Kevin Phillips (John B. Judis, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of On Hallowed Ground: Abraham Lincoln and the Foundations of American History By John Patrick Diggins (John B. Judis, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of A Republic, Not an Empire: Reclaiming America's Destiny By Patrick J. Buchanan (John B. Judis, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of WHO'S IN CONTROL?: Polar Politics and the Sensible Center By Richard Darman (John B. Judis, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Storming the Gates Protest Politics and the Republican Revival. By Dan Balz and Ronald Brownstein (John B. Judis, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Prophet of Rage: A Life of Louis Farrakhan and His Nation by Arthur J Magida (John B. Judis, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Firewall: The Iran-Contra Conspiracy and Cover-Up By Lawrence E. Walsh (John B. Judis, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of RFK: A Candid Biography of Robert F. Kennedy By C. David Heymann (John B. Judis, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of The Selling of ''Free Trade'': Nafta, Washington, and the Subversion of American Democracy By John R. MacArthur (John B. Judis, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of C. WRIGHT MILLS: Letters and Autobiographical Writings Edited by Kathryn Mills with Pamela Mills (John B. Judis, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of IN AMERICA'S COURT: How a Civil Lawyer Who Likes to Settle Stumbled Into a Criminal Trial By Thomas Geoghegan (John B. Judis, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny by Robert Wright (John B. Judis, Washington Monthly)
    -INTERVIEW: Ruy Teixeira, Co-Author of "The Emerging Democratic Majority" (A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW, October 15, 2002)
    -INTERVIEW: A Conversation with John Judis (Alexander Nguyen, April 19, 2000, American Prospect)
    -ESSAY: Whose Left? (James Neuchterlein, January 2001, First Things)
    -ARCHIVES: "judis" (Mag Portal)
    -ARCHIVES: "judis" (Find Articles)
    -REVIEW: of The Emerging Democratic Majority by John B. Judis & Ruy Texeira (David Kusnet, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Emerging Democratic Majority (Kenneth S. Baer, Washington Monthly)
    -REVIEW: of Emerging Democratic Majority (Ronald Brownstein, The American Prospect)
    -REVIEW: of Emerging Democratic Majority (Paul Starr, The American Prospect)
    -REVIEW: of Emerging Democratic Majority (Walter Russell Mead, Foreign Affairs)
    -REVIEW: of Emerging Democratic Majority (Ronald Brownstein, The American Prospect)
    -REVIEW: of Emerging Democratic Majority (Josh Marshall, Talking Points Memo)
    -REVIEW: of Emerging Democratic Majority (Marc Morano, CNSNews.com)
    -REVIEW: of Emerging Democratic Majority (ANIS SHIVANI, Counter Punch)
    -REVIEW: of Emerging Democratic Majority (
    -REVIEW: of The Paradox of American Democracy by John B. Judis (DAVID GLENN, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of The Paradox of American Democracy (Chester E. Finn, Commentary)
    -REVIEW: of The Paradox of American Democracy (Martin Morse Wooster, American Enterprise)
    -REVIEW: of The Paradox of American Democracy (Kevin Mattson, Commonweal)
    -REVIEW: of The Paradox of American Democracy (Kathy Deacon, Village Voice)
    -REVIEW: of The Paradox of American Democracy (Douglas Harbrecht, Business Week)
    -REVIEW: of The Paradox of American Democracy (Kim Phillips-Fein, In These Times)

Book-related and General Links:


RUY TEXEIRA:
    -ESSAY: Is the National Security Issue Magic Pixie Dust for the GOP? (Ruy Texeira, December 2 - December 6, 2002, TomPaine.com)
    -ESSAY: Did the GOP Peak Too Soon? (Ruy Texeira, October 21 - October 25, 2002, TomPaine.com)

GENERAL:
    -ESSAY: IN DEFENSE OF THE ROVE-BARONE THESIS (Patrick Ruffini, 07.30.02)
    -ESSAY: Give 'Em Hell George (Steven Hayward, December 2002, On Principle)
    -ESSAY: The Emerging 9/11 Majority: The war on terror has created a new political climate in America (Fred Barnes, 11/18/2002, Weekly Standard)
    An Emerging Republican Majority? (Daniel Casse, January 2003, Commentary)
    -ESSAY: How To Earn a Majority: Demographic trends are creating Democratic opportunities. But a majority won't come automatically, or easily. (The Editors, Blueprint: New Democrats Online)
    -ESSAY: Judis Strikes Again: A leftist for liberal Republicans (Ramesh Ponnuru, 4/10/00, National Review)
    -ESSAY: This Is Serious: Dominance for Republicans. Vindication for the president. And a good showing from the American people. (David Brooks, 11/06/2002, Weekly Standard)
    -ESSAY: Sobering Thoughts: The GOP's cup runneth over? No, it's half empty. (John Fund, November 7, 2002, Wall Street Journal)
    -ESSAY: Left Demography (Paul Gottfried, American Conservative)
    -ESSAY: Beware Overconfidence: The seeds of an emerging democratic majority? (John O'Sullivan, November 15, 2002, National Review)
    -ESSAY: For Democrats, Time to Meet the Exurban Voter (David Brooks, November 10, 2002, NY Times)
    -ESSAY: The McGovern majority emerges? (Tod Lindberg, October 22, 2002, Washington Times)
    -ESSAY: Politics and The `Ideopolis': A new book, `The Emerging Democratic Majority,' shows that Republicans have work to do (George Will, Sept. 16, 2002, Newsweek)
    -ESSAY: The Emerging Democratic Majority Gets Establishment Attention (Steve Sailer, V-Dare)
    -ESSAY: Electing a New People (PETER BRIMELOW & ED RUBENSTEIN, June 16, 1997, National Review)
    -ESSAY: Rocky Democratic road (Robert Novak, November 28, 2002, Townhall)
    -ESSAY: Slipping Into Minorityhood (Peter Hannaford, 1/6/2003, American Prowler)
    -POLL: Slight Majority Says Lott Should Go: 51 Percent in Poll Say He Should Give Up Leadership Post (Gary Langer, Dec. 16, 2002, ABC News)

Comments:

Thanks for your review.I got wind of this author on NPR and he seemed to be talking about a history I simply, after years of casual study, couldn't believe.Biography after biography confirms a barely passing grade for those present to understand the times they lived in,yet this guy is pointing up some vast orchestrated efforts based on ideologies long gone to say,I think,(he's not very clear) that we should let muslims rule the world if not today than tomorrow.He confirms a little theory of waveform and point particle collapse that makes me wonder where all these irrational yet smart people come from.A wherefore therefore game to keep my chin off my chest.May God help the holy to focus like a laser.

- Shatley

- Sep-10-2004, 21:22

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